The East Village’s Sidewalk Cafe is celebrating its final Winter Antifolk Fest ahead of the cafe’s closure this weekend due to new ownership after 33 years on Avenue A. Longtime antifolkers such as Ray Brown, Dan and Rachel, and Endless Arrows, whose style originated as an ’80s reaction to dated ’60s folk, have played for packed rooms since the Fest started last week. It continues on till Sidewalk’s final night on Saturday.
The Fest got off to an intimate start last Wednesday, with The Iceburgs and Phoebe Novak, but by Friday the venue turned it up for its booker Somer Bingham’s 40th birthday. During her performance with MNR PLSR, complete with candles being blown out and presents getting opened, Bingham thanked her fellow staff and told her audience “there’s a tinge of sadness in the air.” But she said Sidewalk was “going out on a really great note” by showcasing “many of the people who have played here over 30 years of this place being in existence.”
Later, renowned author Anthony Haden-Guest, opening up for Sidewalk mainstays Lorranie Leckie and Her Demons, read “The Whammy Song,” his piece about a woman’s erotic relationship with her appliances.
On Saturday afternoon I met with Jon Berger, a poet who has hosted a weekly open mic for the past several months, to take a photo against Sidewalk’s south facade. While I waited for others to join us I talked with John, a bartender who was starting things up next door from the main restaurant and he told me about the good times he’s had Sidewalk Cafe. “It’s the best bar I’ve worked at and there’s a ton of other bars out here. Every day I have fun with a bunch of awesome people. I’m gonna miss it.”
Nostalgia reigned later that night as New Yorker-endorsed Kung Fu Crime Wave rocked the house and had the audience’s eardrums ringing. The band holds a place in antifolk history as it closed out the genre’s former Bushwick home Goodbye Blue Monday in 2014. Debe Dalton and Joe Crow Ryan, who ran the open mic there, were also on hand.
Missing from the reunion was Brooke Pridemore, who came of age at both venues and is currently on tour for his new album Metal is My Only Friend. His description of antifolk graces a poster hanging on the wall: “Antifolk is the only scene where I can hear the parts I like about punk and the parts I like about folk, and anything else in between, from disco to experimental noise. No one is out of place here, but no one is making the prevailing sound. No one has a firm hold, but everyone has a foot door.”
Photos by Nick McManus.